From Failing to Fabulous
Anne B. McDonnell
In addition, there was plenty of competition. There are at least nine other fitness facilities within 6 miles of Loggerhead Fitness. Says Opton, "Members had choices, and the ones who defected found new homes quickly." What a way to start a business.
However, Opton, through creativity and industry experience, was able to turn the facility around. Opton realized that he had to completely change the facility's image. The old name, Water Front Fitness, was no longer a positive one in the community. "Since Juno Beach is well known for the Loggerhead and Green turtles that come to shore each spring to lay eggs, I chose to go with the turtle theme. I created a new logo and new color theme," he says.
Even a brand new fitness center can't survive without great staff, so Opton got to hiring. He was able to bring back key group instructors who had big followings, plus the previous general manager who had worked at the facility during its peak years, and who had a great reputation with many of the core members.
Technology also played an important role in this transformation. Opton upgraded all the computers and installed new software. He also implemented a system to track and follow up on walk-ins, and to communicate with current members and prospects. "Email marketing was key," Opton says. "I taught the staff how to capture email info. In fact, I tied compensation to this. If a contract was turned in with an incomplete or illegible email address, I would not pay commission until it was fixed." With these email addresses, the facility sends out "thousands of intelligent, professional-looking emails. My open rate is high, and I can get the word out about anything from changes in my schedule to what is new at the gym," says Opton.
Once key improvements were made, "we knew we had to let the community know we had changed," Opton says. The facility had articles written about the upgrades in local newspapers. Opton also sent out a "We Want You Back" postcard to all past members. "To this day, we continue to see a steady trickle of past members who are coming back to us."
Current members are constantly updated about what is going on in the fitness center. "We have an entire wall devoted to bulletin boards for all our events and programming. Each coordinator ... keeps their bulletin boards fresh with interesting news and tid-bits," says Opton. "Communication is what sets us apart."
In three years, the fitness center has completely turned around. "We now have reached the 1,200-member mark, and our EFT has more than tripled since I took over," says Opton. In addition, Loggerhead Fitness was recently voted the best club in the Palm Beaches and Treasure Coast area, in a contest sponsored by the local ABC TV affiliate. Loggerhead beat out 26 other facilities for the title.
The success of Loggerhead is the result of plenty of hard work, but also comes from a simple but important motto. Explains Opton, fitness centers "can't differentiate themselves much by the equipment they offer. What creates the big differentiator is the 'experience' members have. We see ourselves as being ultra-friendly and ultra-clean. ... Our attitude, personnel and effort we put into our club keep things vastly different than my competitors."
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Ithaca College Athletics and Events Center